At a recent all-staff meeting, my teachers and I were posed with a question that got me thinking. We were asked, “What is our ’why’”? Why do we work countless hours, for too little pay, in a field that is consistently under recognized? What is it that keeps us going, keeps us getting up in the morning with a smile on our faces and coming to work? For me, the answer was simple. Quality. I continue to work in this field and work hard because I am committed to providing all 175 children and families our school serves with the highest level of quality possible.
This is why the decision to enroll in Nebraska’s Step Up To Quality was an easy one. Like the UNL Children’s Center, Step Up To Quality is focused on ensuring that quality early childhood programs are available to families throughout the state of Nebraska. After learning more about the initiative, the Children’s Center enrolled in the program in 2016.
Unlike other outside accreditation processes I had been through as an administrator, the team at Step Up to Quality was supportive and helpful every step of the way. Taking on the process was daunting to say the least. At the UNL Children’s Center, we employ roughly 150 part-time student workers in addition to our 25 full-time teaching staff. The thought of trying to get them into the Nebraska Early Childhood Professional Record System (NECPRS), let alone training them on the Environment Rating Scales (ERS) assessments as well as the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) was overwhelming. One of the most helpful aspects of participating in Step Up To Quality was receiving a coach who was trained in the Step Up To Quality accreditation process. Traci Strazdas was assigned to work with our school and it was helpful to have someone guide us through the process.
From the beginning, my teachers and I set out with the goal of achieving a Step 5, which is the highest rating. We spent the entire year with our goal in mind—we would get a Step 5, and we would be the first center to achieve a 5 on our first try. Yes, it would be difficult because we had so many staff. Yes, it would be difficult because we already had a very busy year scheduled with other trainings and planned events. But could we do it? We believed we could. And so … we did.
Coach Assisted with Assessments
The first thing I did was create a plan of how we would achieve our 5-step goal with the help of our coach. For starters, we knew we needed to train all our teaching staff on both the ERS assessment, an environmental rating scale, and the CLASS assessment, which focuses on relationships and interactions between children and staff. After that, our coach and I went into each classroom and performed a baseline analysis using both assessments. We then were able to provide initial feedback to teachers so they knew what to expect with each observation as well as which areas to improve.
In addition, our coaching plan for the year was mapped out around each assessment tool. We were very thoughtful and intentional about planning how we could use our coaching to further our goals of better understanding both ERS and CLASS tools. I focused on CLASS, and broke down the important dimensions into month-long subjects where my coaching, observation and professional development all focused on specific objectives such as positive climate or teacher sensitivity. This helped focus my plan for professional development for the year and really gave teachers a road map to see how each month’s activities were working toward our goal of receiving a 5 in Step Up to Quality.
It was a lot of work, but it was not without support. Coach Traci was instrumental in ensuring that my teachers and staff were ready for the Step Up observations. It goes without saying that my teachers worked their tails off to make sure they were ready for the process as well.
New Skills, Strategies Improve Classroom Quality
After going through the process, I can confidently say my teachers have gained skills and strategies to improve the quality of teaching they provide in the classroom on a daily basis. Step Up To Quality was a great program to supplement the good work my teachers were already doing in the classroom, and I am proud to say that after going through the process we did achieve our goal of a Step 5 rating. If you are involved in an early childhood program in Nebraska, I would highly recommend you get involved in Step Up To Quality. If you believe in quality and understand the importance of quality in early childhood education in Nebraska, you will believe in the principles of Step Up To Quality. It’s that simple.
UNL Children’s Center